This controller fixes a big Nintendo Switch problem but makes another even worse

The initial appeal of the Nintendo Switch had a lot to do with the way it put expansive, console-quality games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a portable console for the first time. But since then, I’ve been spending a lot of my time with the system on less technically advanced titles. I find that I’m more likely to want to play immersive 3D games on my TV screen or PC monitor, while the Switch is the perfect system for kicking back with indies and 2D games.

Well, apart from one problem: the Switch actually kind of sucks for playing 2D games.

The Joy-Con controllers don’t have a proper D-pad because you need to be able to detach each of them from the system and use them as standalone controllers with four face buttons. Nintendo’s own Pro Controller seems to have been afflicted by this, too. It has a D-pad, but it’s a really bad one that’s hamstrung by the apparent need to be able to press all four directions independently of one another. The result is the worst D-pad in living memory from the company that invented the concept, with constant unintended inputs.

Hori, the venerable Japanese third-party controller maker, is trying to fix that. Its new product, the D-Pad Controller, is an officially licensed left Joy-Con replacement that substitutes an honest-to-god D-pad for the original four-button solution. It’s out now in Japan, it costs $25, and it’s coming to the US soon with Zelda- and Mario-themed designs.

There are a few caveats. The D-Pad Controller only works in portable mode. There’s no wireless support at all, so you have to use it attached to the Switch tablet. Hori has also omitted motion control and rumble functionality. It feels (and is) cheaper than a Nintendo Joy-Con, and the buttons are a little off; the L bumper is clickier, for example, while the – button is mushier. Basically, you really need to want a proper Switch D-pad for this thing to be worth it, even at $25.

That describes me, though, and I would say this is money well-spent if you’re anything like me. I’ve been using the D-pad with technically challenging Switch games like Hollow Knight, Celeste, Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, and so on, and it’s hard to convey just how much it improves the experience. No more missed inputs or accidental diagonals. The Hori D-pad is responsive and accurate, if not quite up to the clicky precision of some of my favorites. If you die due to botching a downward attack in Shovel Knight, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

The missing functionality isn’t a huge deal in practice. Most games that use motion control rely solely on the right Joy-Con, so you can still use gyroscopic aiming in Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2, for example. (But not Fortnite, oddly.) I didn’t miss the lack of rumble much, either, since it isn’t disabled on the right Joy-Con — though it does feel a little weird only to have one half of the system buzzing along to the music in Lumines Remastered.

I would happily use the Hori D-pad exclusively when traveling with the Switch except for one glaring flaw: its battery consumption. The Switch is already a power hog, but attaching the Hori D-pad causes the battery to drain between 8 and 10 percent an hour in standby mode, in my testing. With regular Joy-Con attached, it takes about three hours to drain by a single percent.

This is obviously less than ideal because it’ll seriously limit your ability to take out the Switch when the mood strikes you on a long trip. The Switch’s battery life is bad enough already without having a third of it chewed up in the time it takes for you to get onto a plane from your house. Hori says it’s aware of the issue and will have fixed it in time for the US launch, but it’s unclear whether it’ll be possible to fix Japanese units that are already on the market.

I can’t recommend this product wholeheartedly, then, and I might not use it as much as I’d like. But it’s still the best way to play 2D games on the Nintendo Switch, and I’ll no doubt be using it the next time I get stuck on a Hollow Knight boss.

The Chuwi HiGame PC is a cheaper, noisier mini gaming rig

Earlier this year, Intel released its eighth-generation NUC, an incredibly compact PC that still managed to pack enough power to run AAA and VR gaming titles at playable frame rates. But the downside to the NUC is largely its cost — for the price of the NUC, which could run more than $1,500 with the necessary RAM and storage you’d need, you can get a much more powerful traditional gaming PC.

Chuwi’s HiGame PC is a new compact PC that aims to pick up where Intel’s leaves off. It runs the same platform as the NUC, but Chuwi is selling the HiGame as a complete PC (as opposed to the barebones way Intel offers the NUC) for hundreds of dollars less. The company is running an Indiegogo campaign where orders for the HiGame can be placed for the next couple of weeks before it hits retail sales later this year.

Like the NUC, the HiGame has Intel’s 8th-generation Core processors paired with AMD’s Radeon RX Vega M integrated graphics. This compact, energy-efficient package packs a surprising amount of power that runs circles around Intel’s own integrated graphics. Chuwi is offering the HiGame with either the Core i5 8305G or the Core i7 8709G processor and 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage. During the crowdfunding campaign, the i5 model is available for $899, while the i7 version is $1,099. Both are expected to have retail prices of $400 more.

Those prices aren’t exactly budget level, but compared to what it costs to equip Intel’s NUC, they are significantly lower. But Chuwi’s take on the compact PC isn’t nearly as refined as Intel’s, and there are a number of concessions made.

I’ve been testing the six-inch by six-inch HiGame for the past couple of weeks, and in terms of power and capabilities, it’s just as good as Intel’s NUC. It can handle daily workflow needs easily and can push demanding AAA games like Star Wars Battlefront II over 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution and medium detail settings. That’s a lot of power in this tiny little box.

And when I say tiny, I mean it. The HiGame is slightly taller than the NUC, but it’s square as opposed to rectangular and barely takes up any room on my desk. The aluminum case is sleeker and nicer to look at than the NUC, and it doesn’t have any obnoxious lighting or design elements.

But you do give up some things for that compact size. Though there are enough ports to run five displays at the same time, the HiGame has significantly fewer ports than Intel’s computer. The lone Thunderbolt 3 port is on the front of the computer, which makes it awkward to use as a display output or with an external GPU, and there isn’t an SD card slot at all.

Inside, the HiGame has two DDR4 RAM slots, a single M2 storage slot, and room for a 2.5-inch SSD. Accessing those is easy enough: just four hex screws secure the bottom plate, which pops off to reveal the memory and storage slots.

But the biggest difference between the HiGame and Intel’s computer is in the cooling department. The HiGame has a single, 90mm fan that runs frequently and is very loud, at least in the pre-production device I’ve been using. (The Intel has two fans that spin much quieter). The fan comes on whether I’m gaming, browsing the web, or just going about my daily workflow of Slack, email, Twitter, and writing. It’s rare that the fan isn’t on, and it makes the HiGame difficult to use as a workstation PC if you’re not wearing headphones.

Chuwi says that the shipping version of the HiGame will have a quieter fan, but the company didn’t specify if the change is hardware-based or relies on firmware and software tweaks.

It’s easy to remove the bottom panel of the HiGame to upgrade the memory and storage.

If you’re looking for the smallest possible computer that can still run modern games and handle heavier tasks, the HiGame is smaller and less expensive than Intel’s niche-focused NUC. Even though the Intel computer is significantly more expensive, it’s much more enjoyable to use, showing that sometimes, you do get what you pay for.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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